I just got back from a hike with a lesbian friend and asked her “Hey, do you know any transgender people?” She is 62 and said “No, I think I have met some, but do I have any as friends? No, I don’t think so.” I anticipated this to be a typical response for a straight person, but it actually surprised me when my lesbian friend said, “No, I don’t know any.” It’s confusing, isn’t it? Aren’t these letters LGBT always grouped together? Don’t these folks on the edge all hang out together? You’ll soon understand that the issues of the LGB and T’s are different and there is even lack of understanding in the quartet of letters for the final one tagged on, the T’s. If you had asked me what I knew about transgendered people five years ago, my answer would have been shockingly short on fact and amazingly full of myth.
I have had several transgender people come into my view in the past few years. When the number goes from none to many, I am provoked to look at the issue and try to understand it for myself. In sharing with others, I will make mistakes, offend people and use wrong terms as well as attract scorn from those who don’t even want to acknowledge the rightful existence of transpeople. And the sweet sliver in it all will be for my trans friends when they cry with relief to think a straight Christian would even care. In the past, I believed that transgender people were really just cross-dressers of sorts: men who liked pretty high heels and flowy skirts and women who liked black jeans, breast-flattening bras and macho behavior. I was not comfortable with them, so I didn’t care to go any deeper in understanding them. I didn’t acknowledge them as healthy, adjusted people. Was I basing this “knowledge” on any interaction? Of course not; I did not have any interaction (that I knew of) with T’s (just to clearly point out the hypocrisy that maybe you will see in yourself too). So, I did not have any relationships with transgender people and I knew nothing about the issue of the biology or science, yet, I came to the conclusion that they were “freaks”. Very nice for a person who has been following “All are Created in My Father’s Image” Jesus. This is the thing about getting really close to that Radical, He will not let you get away with treating the rest of His creation badly or even with unconcern. If you are listening to Him, the heart, compassion and eye of God enters the mix. I think God would want me to know, experience, respect and serve all His creation and children. And, this includes the transgender group.
I’ve gone from only a few relationships in recent years, based in fear, discomfort and wanting to know nothing beyond what I “knew,” to calling some people in this group “friend.” I am honored to have eight trans people as friends; I know about two dozen others that I chat with. This does not make me an expert, and living in that unsure spot has held me back from writing about the issue to some degree. I can’t sit by and watch discrimination take place while I gather what I do not know; but rather, I need to act on what I do know. What I do know is that God does not care if you approach Him in cute, pink, sized 14 heels and a penis, or if you approach Him sporting a beard and a clitoris; He cares about the heart. The heart. He says it over and over in the Scriptures. When we, who have little to no comprehension on the subject, station ourselves as genitalia checkers at the church doors, we have somehow missed the heart issue: in them, and in us. That Leviticus 21:18 job was made redundant when the temple curtain was torn. Period.
I have chosen to briefly write about three people that have taught me deeper compassion and understanding of the trans community: KT, Kathy and Cecelia. The first time I had a conversation of any import with a trans person was a few years ago at a TEN (The Evangelical Network) Conference. There was a workshop on transgenderism. Why not? I am built of pure curiosity, if nothing else. KT was the presenter. She had been a man working as a power plant engineer in Russellville, Arkansas, went away on an extended trip to Thailand for sex reassignment surgery (SRS), and returned to her job as a woman. Whoa! Many things about this fascinated me: being brave enough to transition in a town with a population of 24,000, maintaining respect in a job in a rural spot after the process, and KT seemed really happy and extroverted. I had to have lunch with her, and I did. She told a story that challenged my completely uneducated view. At age 20, while on a hunting trip, he was sitting in a cabin with a hunting knife in his hands, staring down at his genitalia and wanting to cut them off; they did not belong there. That was the message his brain was telling him. He could not even label what he was feeling; it was an overwhelming knowing that his penis and testicles should not have been there. He went on to marry a woman, had two sons, and at 50, transitioned to KT. She tried to remain married and eventually settled into a transsexual heterosexual female and divorced her wife. I know, a lot to comprehend when your view of the world is binary, male and female, pink and blue, trucks and dolls. My snips and snails/sugar and spice view was being challenged.
There is a transgender cleaning person at the hotel where my friends and I have breakfast every Friday morning. Talk about a stealth person. Under the radar. I think she was the barista at the airport coffee shop for a few years before as well. In those days, when I was still an ass about transgender people, I remember thinking about “her” — “Who is he kidding? Does he think he is coming off as a woman?” Do I sound like any of you reading this yet? I hope I am not alone in these far less-than-kind judgments.
I had hardly noticed Kathy in the over two years she had been directly in my path at the hotel. I should have, I just did not. One day, last November 2009, I woke up thinking about her on a Friday morning before going to my weekly breakfast. I had made chocolate peanut butter cupcakes as random gifts for friends/acquaintances and had four remaining. I chatted with God the night before, “Hey, God, You’ll show me who to give them to, right?” I woke up thinking of this invisible cleaning woman; I had never even looked her in the face, nor had I been within five feet of her. I packaged the cupcakes up nicely, walked in the hotel entrance and there she was, cleaning out the ashtray stands. “You know, I have seen you for years and never bothered to even say hello. I just want you to know that I see you and you are not unimportant or invisible and I want to apologize for never acknowledging you. So, can we start now? My name is Kathy and I would like to give you these cupcakes.” Until I got close to her, I never even realized she was transgender. Here is the cool, God-wink-wink-gift to me: it was November 20th and, until I got on Facebook later that day, I did not realize it was “National Transgender Remembrance Day”. That may seem like a small point to you readers, but that stuff never escapes me. God was having a giggle, and encouraging me to get to know her. I was finally ready to treat one of His trans children with respect. Now, every Friday, I seek Kathy or she seeks me.
And finally, now, sweet, sweet Cecelia: she lives in Texas with her partner, June. I first saw Cecelia at a TEN conference in 2008; I was pretty uncomfortable approaching her. That was NOT about her; that was about me. She looked so masculine and fit ideally into my classic, biased image of “transgender female,” you know, the cross-dresser-gone-askew view I still had. Cecelia is not the lipstick, big girls on the chest, high-heeled trans woman. I remember thinking, “How will I ever relate to her?” If you have been within ten feet of me, you will know this is not a common attitude in me. I was allowing my discomfort, my lack of understanding, my inability to put her securely into the, “Oh, I know this one,” file in my head. I made that “file” into a wall that would stop me from engaging in conversation with Cecelia and June. Did I know or understand that then? No. To me, she was one of those T people who just felt more comfortable dressing as a woman. (My judgment makes me cringe now.) I would learn a huge lesson from this woman two years later. I was anything but Jesus-like. Me, the one who can love fairly unconditionally, the one who is at the top of the “most socially accepting” people list, had imposed my story of who transgender people are on Cecelia and thoughtlessly placed her aside (see the video link on this page or here for my story of Cecelia and June).
When you know people as people, as humans, and not as a category or label, it is more difficult to discount them or invalidate them. I have been challenged to go through this theological and societal bias before when God started bringing gay and lesbian people into my life. At that time, LGBT Christians totally challenged my no-gays-in-heaven theology. Again, I needed to lead with what I did know and open myself to Holy Spirit input. For me, the concept that God loves and created people as transgendered individuals was not a challenge. The challenge was to understand them as people and to stop seeing them as people wanting to dress or live as another sex. That was my story, not their story. I was putting people in my prison of ignorance.
I’ve watched the discrimination within the LGB community against the T’s too. This didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think I have ever been at a party of lesbians and seen a male to female (MTF) at the party. Likewise, I have been with my gay friends and not seen FTM’s there either. The sole exception of my experience is within Christian LGBT communities: conferences, churches and social events associated with them. Was this bias I thought I felt outside of faith communities actually a prejudice within the LGBT community itself? As a straight person, I had slurred the letters together, but the segments did not flow together as the letters did. I wondered why.
Again, this is where I hesitated to even write this post because this is mostly observance and some dialogue with trans activists. There is a key to understanding the wall between LGB and T; I never saw it before now. To LGB people, the issue is sexual orientation. To T people, the issue is gender identity. This is a huge point to miss! LGB people see themselves as the sex their bodies reflect. You may feel uncomfortable with a slender gay man in a designer shirt and perfectly coiffed hair, but you know he is male. A gay man sees himself as a man. His body and brain are male. It’s the same with a lesbian: body and brain are female. But it’s not so with a transgender person. The body and brain do not line up. Your sex is what is between your legs and your gender is what your brain says it is. You cannot change you brain with any amount of therapy. Studies show that the brain of a MTF looks like that of a hetero woman. The body would tell him that he is male sexually, but the brain tells him his gender is female. The timeline patterns of realization is the same in T as LGB — by 5 to 8, they know something is different; by puberty, they’re pretty sure; and by their 20’s, they’re faced with a decision regarding what to do about it.
My gay and lesbian friends don’t understand trans people for the most part either. The gay men are surprised to see a transwoman willing giving up masculinity, and they see the newly converted FTM’s as “posers”. The lesbians see a man-wannabe-woman in MTF, but still view them as men. And what trailer-hauling lesbian wants to be with a man? Ewwww! The LGB are dealing with sexual orientation, not gender identity. Homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual in 1973. The transpeople, however, are still listed to possess a “gender identity disorder”. It is not a mental disorder; it is a persistent drive to gain authenticity between sex and gender. When you see it in this view, you can see that the issues in the grouping of GLBT are different. The goals are the same: equality and the freedom to be who they are; the rights to dignity and justice that the heterosexual community enjoys. But sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity. What’s between the legs versus what’s in the brain. This does cause there to be bias and judgment against the T’s in the GLBT community. Sad, but true. I see those walls coming down in the GLBT Christian community which is encouraging. Being Jesus-followers, GLBT Christians should better understand equality.
Why are there people who do not fit into the normative binary system? The answer is found in mostly prenatal conditions. There may have been hormonal imbalances in the Mom, chemicals in the environment, or a genetic shift from “normal”. I want to insert here that although the norm is indeed male in brain and body and female in brain and body, that does not make transpeople “abnormal”; they are just not the norm. We need to get rid of terminology that discounts who they are. To my gay friends who think you have a struggle, oh my goodness, add this one to top it!! In my own state of Nevada, when the civil unions discussion and equality issues came to the State Legislature, the power-makers made it clear that if the GLB community just detached from the T’s, the law would go through more easily. Thank goodness for a GLB community that acted with integrity and who chose to fight for full equality for all the “sexually others”.
Is your brain getting pulled like taffy yet? Okay, then here is some more for you . . .within the trans community, there will be other variations (this is not an exhaustive list at all). Transgender is the umbrella term for the group. There are heterosexual trans. This means they are attracted to the opposite sex: a MTF with a male, a FTM with a female. There are gay FTM with men and lesbian MTF with women. Once the body lines up with the brain, there is not a predicted sexual orientation that will result. Remember, one is gender identity and the other is sexual orientation: the gender you are versus the sex you are attracted to. Included under the transgender umbrella are: cross-dressers (dressing as the opposite sex for sexual or emotional satisfaction), intersexed (people who have chromosomal and anatomical attributes of both sexes from birth), and transexuals (people who seek hormones and/or surgery to transition).
I could write a chapter (in an upcoming book) inclusive of far more information, but my goal in this post is twofold: to bring some understanding to we non-transgenders as to who transgender people are; and more importantly, to fight for a place of equality for transpeople in the church and against the restrictions on their relationship with God and Jesus. Some quick facts:
- Transgender people will suffer more panic attacks, depression and suicide attempts before they transition. Over 40% of trans people have attempted suicide.
- In major cities, 20 to 40 % of the homeless youth are GLBT and 40% of that group it transgender.
- Between .25 to 1% of the population is trans
- Cost of MTF transition is $20K to $70K average
- Cost of FTM transition is $60K to $150K average
- You may notice more MTF because tall women are easier to spot than shorter FTM
- There are about 1.5 times more MTF than FTM
- There are approximately 100 companies that carry insurance that provide for the sex reassignment surgery
- Why are there so many transgenders now, and not so many “when I was a kid”? Positive role models exist, and the internet has been a resource of information so people don’t have to suffer in silence.
- Some FTM may be sitting in the butch lesbian community and are actually FTM transmen (not lesbians), but it is “easier” to be a lesbian than transgendered. (Are you confused yet?)
- The issue in legislatures for trans equality really does come down to bathrooms (yes, bathrooms). Who gets to use which one? Just like DADT, the issue in many minds is bathrooms and showers
I personally am supportive of full equality for transgendered people within society and churches. Am I the average straight, evangelical Christian? Absolutely not. I see no need to go through all the verses about sexual behavior/orientation/morality/immorality/homosexuality here. That is mostly covered in other posts on my blog Canyonwalker Connections. You will not, therefore, see examinations of Romans, I Corinthians, or Leviticus in this post. What I did wonder about was, “So, God, did you tell us anything about this group inYour Word?” The answer is “Yes.” The “sexually others” in the Bible are “eunuchs,” from the Hebrew word “saris,” meaning “castrated one,” and the Greek word “eunouchos,” meaning a castrated person.
Verses/sections that mention eunuchs:
Isaiah 56:3-5, “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ For this is what the LORD says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name — better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.’”
Mark 14:13-14, “So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’”
Acts 8:26-36, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”
Isaiah contains the promise that God will give the eunuchs that follow Him, the cursed ones of Leviticus, a place of honor and of comfort; a place of fullness at the table of the Lord. God says that.
In Acts, God selects a sexually other person to further the Gospel. Jesus states the plan to the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Ethiopian eunuch had been to Jerusalem to investigate this One of whom he had heard. By a miracle, just as he was reading a quote from the OT prophet Isaiah, Philip appeared. I can imagine this less-than-a-man in the eyes of the Jews, the man who would never have the visible blessing of God in children, sitting in his chariot reading about a Lamb, a Messiah. Here was a Lamb who, like the eunuch himself, had been deprived of equality and justice and suffered the humiliation of no descendants. Can’t we see that this verse was quite an opportune verse for the eunuch to be reading?
I had a simplistic view of these verses before. The only message contained was, “Always be ready to give a reason for your faith, anywhere. You never know when you will be called upon.” Could there be so much more here? Wouldn’t that be the cool, God thing to do? God used a black, sexually other person to take the Gospel message outside Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. Can God also use a MTF person to bring His Gospel message to those who feel somehow less than, undeserving? To those who are victims of injustice? A man with a soft, effeminate robe and a high pitched voice — did Philip and God discount this eunuch? Hardly. He was honored and trusted to further the Gospel. My friend Cecelia is being honored and trusted to further the Gospel with her message to the outcast. She can understand that place of pain and disregard, too. She has an “everlasting” name to God. (For more information on Cecelia and her Lost Lamb Ministry, go here and view the video on this page.)
The final verse I want to point out came to me like a smile-wrapped gift. I would never have seen this with my binary gender position. Looking at Mark 14:13, I know I have wondered this: “How are the disciples supposed to go to a crowded city and spot a man carrying a water jar? And how does the safety and sacredness of The Last Supper depend on their finding this man?” Playing “Where’s Waldo?” to ensure the last night of Jesus’ freedom? Pretty risky hunt. It’s read every Good Friday; I have heard the passage repeated. With my thinking now sensitized to gender roles and sexual orientation issues, I read about the culture of the times. (I am a fan of reading in the culture of the writing and not limiting my mind to what I think something says.)
The custom of carrying water in the Holy Land is and was the woman’s job. She was to go to the well or spring with a pitcher and carry the water home. When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua, he judged them and made them servants to chop wood and carry water. This punishment may seem insignificant to us, but it was terribly humiliating to a man to have to carry water in public; that was a woman’s job. He could carry a “skin” of water, but the word here is jar. Knowing this, it is easier to see how the disciples could identify the man in a crowded city carrying a water jar. I can easily think of him as a “sexually other,” a man with female gender traits. The disciples followed the jar-carrier home and the Passover was held in the place where he lived. I don’t think that Jesus would have this important meal in the home of an owner who was humiliating a person by subjecting them to a woman’s task. There was probably no dishonor in this relationship, whatever it may have been. Within the realm of my consideration of this passage, there was great honor bestowed upon the house where the two lived. Could it be that the Isaiah 56:3-5 blessing is at work? The Bible honors this unnamed man, the water-carrying man, and he has been given “an everlasting name” in the pages of Scripture.
If God says He will honor the “sexually others” who follow Him, how would you choose to deal with these scenarios:
- Born with male chromosomes, but outward anatomy presents as female (making this person intersexed). Has SRS to transition to male and marries a woman. This is now an opposite-sexed marriage. Is this okay with you?
- Born with male chromosomes, anatomy presents as female, does not go through surgery, is still chromosomally a man, and marries a woman. Opposite-sexed marriage chromosomally, but not in genitalia. Now what do you do?
- Hormonal imbalance of Mom in utero makes a baby with a female brain and male body. The SRS is completed to look physically like a female and wants to marry a heterosexual man. Should that be allowed? Would that be welcomed in your church?
- How about an intersexed person born with both signs of male and female chromosomes and genitalia. and the biological sex doesn’t manifest till puberty. Who gets to pick what sex/gender they live as or who they marry?
If we continue to keep rigid constructs of gender identity that we feel comfortable with and restrict others to our rules of understanding, do you think that may be cutting out some of God’s children from the mix in freedom in society and freedom in Him? When you reject a person because of sexual orientation or gender identity, you really do reject them. Parse the words, keep telling yourself that you are being loving, and you will fall miserably short of the Jesus plan. When He said “whosoever,” I think He meant it. He looks at the hearts of people. He asks, “Are they submitted?” Are they righteous in His eyes through faith in Jesus? Do they exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit? It really does not matter how uncomfortable you may personally be not knowing what is in someone’s underpants, or if their breasts are pricey add-ons. That is your own bias. No reparative therapy, shouting out the demons, or denying a child of other-sexed toys will make them the gender that that you see in their physical form if their other-gendered brains are not in the game.
So, we can force our binary views on the 1% because they are “messy” to us and we don’t want to deal with them. We can insist that all GLBT people conform to gender identities and sexual orientations that fit in our comfort zones. We can impose upon them lives of depression, suicide, personal discomfort with themselves, unfulfilled expressions of who they want to be, and imprison people in bodies that betray their brains. Of course, it will be done in the name of “Society must be tidy,” and “God says so.” Or, we can try to be Jesus-people and accept others for who they are. Sure, it will be uncomfortable and confusing for those of us who are “pink and blue” thinkers. There is no express lane to the Throne marked “Straight People Only” or “If your genitalia match your gender, line up here.” Could God possibly be as simple and clear cut about gender and sexuality as we are? Oh my goodness, I hope He has a better grip on this than the rest of us. He is the Creator of all this lovely, complex humanity. I am quite sure none of this would stump Him.
When I watched Erin (a MTF transsexual who did SRS ten years ago) worshiping God during a praise service amongst 200 LGBT (and S) believers one evening, I cried. I knew that she would have been shunned from most churches. And there she was, loving her Father God with everything in her. What made me cry was that we are guilty of disallowing what is meant for her too: equal access to the Mercy Seat, to a place where she can lean her head on God’s breast. Six-foot-five, in large (but very cute) sandals, and her poly shirt and print skirt sized XXL, she wanted the same things I do: a relationship with her Creator, a place of equality in the church to serve and flow, and acceptance within society for who she is — who she was created to be. What does it really, really matter to anyone else that it is not the “norm”? I anticipate that I will be gaining a lot more T friends because I am open to it. God can trust me now with these treasures of His. And, I am also quite sure that I will feel richer for it. I could not imagine my life without my LGB friends. I don’t want average or normal; I want all of life that my Father has to offer in relationships and experiences. If the GLB’s are 5 to 10% of the population and the T’s are 1%, I am just not willing to set them aside.
I encourage you to listen to the video attached to this post. It is a recap of this text and the story of one person who I am better for having known, my friend Cecelia. Don’t deny yourself of the blessings in people and service amongst the T community. For my LGB friends, really consider the promises of Isaiah 58. When we “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke,” He will guide you, satisfy you and supply your needs. Don’t leave them behind. Maybe the T’s are part of the ones the LGB’s are to free from injustices? They have equal standing with you and with me. Biases are not from God; they have no place in the lives of believers. Let the world continue their struggle with these “sexually others” that God loves; let the people of God, including the LG and B’s, be radically inclusive of those we may not understand. They will know we are Christians by our love. love.